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Late Bronze Age Pottery Kilns

 

There can be no doubt that 3000 years ago people were quite busy making pottery at Tell Sabi Abyad. Pottery manufacture had become a real industry, in the hands of professionals. The potters appear to have travelled as well, from one settlement to the other. One cuneiform text found at Tell Sabi Abyad contains an urgent request to send the potter, as ‘there aren’t any vessels left to serve our guests with”.

A series of pottery ovens has been found at the site. The ovens were used between 1220 and 1170 BC. So far, few pottery ovens are known from that period.

 

A large pottery kiln during excavation. Its floor has not yet been reached. Only the lower (underground) part of the kiln is preserved. The upper chamber has fully collapsed, as has the floor of the kiln. Nevertheless: portions of the floor were preserved, with the holes in them.

The ovens were built of mud bricks and consisted of two chambers: one underground chamber in which the fire burnt and one above ground where the pottery that was to be fired was placed. Between the chambers a floor was constructed which rested on two or three mud-brick arches, depending on the size of the oven. The floor had round holes in regular distances to let the heat through. The pottery was stacked onto the floor. The ovens easily reached firing temperatures up to 850-100 degrees Celsius.

 

A large pottery kiln during excavation. The men are standing in the deep underground fire chamber. The floor of the kiln has largely collapsed but part of the floor and some of the round holes in it are stiil clearly visible. To the right we see the mud-brick wall of the upper chamber, above ground.

The ovens have different dimensions. The largest oven is 3 m long and 2.5 m wide. The underground fire chamber is more than 2 m deep. One or two narrow, half-round openings give access to the fire chamber. Through these openings fuel could be brought in and the ashes could be removed afterwards. The openings also provided sufficient oxygen during the process of firing, necessary to keep the fire going.

 

The man is standing in the deep, underground fire chamber of one of the large pottery kilns found at Tell Sabi Abyad. The greenish fired mud bricks of the kiln's walls are clearly visible, as well as the round holes in its floor (the floor itself had collapsed; only its edges were preserved).

For safety reasons most ovens were placed within enclosures made of mud-brick walls. Around the ovens there were also a number of small buildings that undoubtedly functioned as potters’ workshops. In one of the workshops we found dozens of small bowls on the floor.

We also found unfired bowls and jars in the workshops, ready to be placed into the oven. There were also a number of wasters, including one large completely misshapen jar. With this kind of waster a whole lot of things may have went wrong during the manufacturing process. Maybe the pots were stacked in the oven in a wrong manner, or the vessels began sliding.

  

Large, misshapen jar (left) and a basalt potter's wheel (right), found at Tell Sabi Abyad

Usually wasters are discarded. Who would want to have them? In the case of the large misshapen jar it seems as if a useful function was found after all. The jar was standing against a wall on the floor of the workshop, among the masses of small bowls and other vessels.

In one of the workshops we also found two stone wheels, each approximately 30 cm in diameter, used for throwing the pottery.

 

      Do you want to read more about the pottery kilns at Tell Sabi Abyad? See:

·        P.M.M.G. Akkermans & K. Duistermaat (2001), "A Middle Assyrian Pottery Kiln at Tell Sabi Abyad, Syria", in: J.-W. Meyer, M. Novák and A. Pruss (eds.), Beiträge zur Vorderasiatischen Archäologie, Winfried Orthmann gewidmet, Frankfurt am main, pp. 12-19. Download pdf

·        K. Duistermaat (2008), The Pots and Potters of Assyria - Technology and Organisation of Production, Ceramic Sequence and Vessel Function at Late Bronze Age Tell Sabi Abyad, Syria. Turnhout: Brepols Publishers. Buy now!